Seeds of Trust Lead to Lower Imputs

Jack Payne
Jack Payne

Before Dr. Natalia Peres put a single plant in the ground at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center when she arrived more than a decade ago, she began planting seeds of trust with growers.

Al Herndon managed a strawberry farm in Floral City at the time. By his account, it took some time for Peres to really figure out what the growers’ problems were.

For Peres, trust was absolutely essential for her to get her science out of the lab and into growers’ fields. To build knowledge, she had to build relationships.

Before a weather station was installed, Herndon’s information source for controlling strawberry diseases was a daily call to Peres on his flip phone.

After delivering enough weather-based recommendations to control strawberry diseases on his farm and listening to what Herndon was seeing in his fields, though, she earned his trust.

She wanted to develop a model for determining when to spray for certain diseases. To Herndon, what Peres meant was that he was “not supposed to spray unless her little computer told me to.”

Dr. Natalia Peres works with a group of growers.
Dr. Natalia Peres works with a group of growers.

Herndon told her it wouldn’t work. Trying something new is risky, so he needed to trust Peres. Because she’d earned that trust, he agreed to a nine-row test area where he’d follow reduced fungicide spraying instructions from Peres’s strawberry advisory system.

It worked! Herndon sprayed 50% less fungicide than he used to, but he remained skeptical. Could be those nine rows had benefited from the more heavily treated rows around them. So he expanded the test area to five acres of strawberries. He saw the same positive results.

By establishing a bond with Peres, Herndon strengthened his relationship with one of the nation’s largest agricultural innovation organizations.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences backs Peres by surrounding her with world-class collaborators, equipping her with a modern laboratory, and providing a steady supply of graduate students to assist in her research.

Peres has published in academic journals about the success of the advisory system. UF/IFAS touted the huge financial savings for growers in a news release. Herndon summed it up by simply saying, “The hell of it is, it works!”

You have a relationship with Team IFAS. Team members share information through websites, field days, diagnostic testing, demonstration projects, 4H clubs, and classes. And if that’s what works for you, we’ll even do it through calls to your flip phone.

By Jack Payne

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.